JEFF KNAPP: Fall trout fishing an exceptional experience
The leaves aren’t the only thing that change colors in fall. Native brook trout, as their fall spawning time nears, take on a brilliance that matches that of any leafy transition.
I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when — along with Dave Keith — I took a break from river smallmouth bass guiding to explore a nearby brookie stream.
It had been a while since I’d fished for brookies. Though the early portion of the summer had featured lots of rain — which translates into lots of water and good trout fishing — the past month had been dry. The streams were low and clear, typical of late summer and early fall, and those are conditions that make for tough fishing.
During the day prior to our outing things changed. We had an all-day rain, the kind that soaks into the ground, rather than just running right off. I’d hoped that the precipitation would not only give the streams a boost, but help keep them at a nice level for some time.
When we arrived at the stream we were happy to see a nice flow. It doesn’t pay to advertise the location of native brook trout streams, so I parked my truck as far off the road as possible. After donning boots and grabbing our gear, we hiked about a mile-and-a-half up the stream, to an area where several nice pools cascade down the valley.
It only took a few minutes to hook my first brookie, a brilliant 9-incher that took a pink-hued streamer. Moments later Dave caught its twin.
During the course of the afternoon we caught and released many more brookies, and lost/missed several others. The fish weren’t big — a 10-incher is an exceptional fish, one that’s defied the odds by living a few years, a feat that includes eluding the jaws of predators, summertime droughts that turn streams into trickles, and brutal winter temperatures that create anchor ice, which can freeze trout eggs laid the previous fall. But what the fish lack in size they make up for in beauty … and the joy of catching stream-bred trout.
A week later Dave and I fished another gorgeous trout stream. It was the first time we’d ever fished this creek, a tributary to the Allegheny River. While it gets a stocking of adult trout in the early spring, it also is one of the hundreds of waters listed — by the Fish and Boat Commission — of having natural reproduction of trout.
There’s something special about the first time on a stream, an element of unknowing that adds a sense of adventure. I’ve fished several of these Allegheny River tributaries this year; some have produced wild trout, some only creek chubs. But they’ve had one thing in common: a steep descent down to the water. This was no exception.
We heard this stream long before we saw it, the roar of rushing water serenading us as we walked down the trail. There was no disappointment when we finally reached the stream, a tumbling blend of riffles, waterfalls and rocky pools.
And there were trout there; maybe not in great numbers, but trout. The highlight for Dave was a beautifully hued brook trout in the 12- to 13-inch range. The fish was a perfect specimen, which suggests it might have been a wild fish, but given its exceptional size it was likely a leftover from the spring stocking.
We also caught some wild brown trout, including one that took my Humpy dry fly as it floated in the foam below a postcard-picture waterfall.